U.S. National Team
NASL Star Miguel Ibarra Discusses Possible US Call
The U.S. men's national team has not called in a player from a lower-tier American soccer league since Clyde Simms got the nod in 2005. But 24-year-old Miguel Ibarra could change all of that.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedWITH JURGEN KLINSMANN set to release his national team roster for the upcoming October friendlies this weekend, there is speculation that it could contain a few surprises. For Minnesota United’s Miguel Ibarra, the opportunity could be an historic one. Ibarra, 24, is in the midst of a breakout season in NASL and there are reports now that the New York-born, California-raised attacker could be on the national team next month. No American player from a domestic professional league other than MLS has officially participated in a national team camp since Clyde Simms in 2005. As the son of Mexican-born parents, Ibarra grew up supporting both the U.S. and Mexican national teams but the honor to play for the country of his birth would be a career accomplishment. While Ibarra cannot officially comment on the roster, he did admit that the opportunity would fulfill a life-long dream. “That’s always been a dream of mine since I was little,” Ibarra told American Soccer Now on Monday. “I’m happy to be mentioned. I’ll have to play the wait game and see when the final roster comes out. I am just going to focus this game coming up against Atlanta.” The NASL represents the second tier in United States soccer but Minnesota United is the league’s most powerful team this season. The club is in first place with the best goal differential (+20) and the most goals scored (41) through 21 games of the combined Fall and Spring schedules. Ibarra is a key figure in Minnesota's high-powered attack with eight goals to his name. He is joined by Daniel Mendes (nine goals) and the league’s leading scorer, Christian Ramirez, who has 16. Ibarra has played both as a second forward behind Ramirez and at right wing, where he played most of his youth career. At just five-foot-seven, Ibarra has used his blazing speed to become one of the best attackers in the league. On Monday he was named the NASL Player of the Week for the second week in a row following Minnesota’s 3-2 win over Ottawa. He picked up the opening goal and a first-class assist on the 89th minute winner in that contest. “Most people are looking at me now for my speed,” Ibarra acknowledged. “A lot of teams are recognizing that I am pretty fast. I just always look to make the game easier for the other guys on my team and if I can set them up for a goal and defensively help them out. Anywhere they need help, I will do my job.” Minnesota teammate Ramirez could be NASL MVP in 2014 and his partnership with Ibarra has earned raves. The two are best friends and roommates off the field and Ramirez believes that Ibarra would fit well into the U.S. national team. “They’d be getting one of the fittest—if not the fittest—guys in camp as well as one of the fastest,” Ramirez said. “He plays with that certain confidence that he has shown this past month. He’s very un-guardable because he brings so much energy to the game. He has the passing and this year he’s added that selfishness to be able to finish. I think they’d be getting something that they don’t have. In my eyes, I think he brings something that normally the U.S. fans don’t see.” UC-Irvine head coach Chris Volk agrees with Ramirez. Volk, who was an assistant when Ibarra attended the university, sees him as the product of an American system where players can be overlooked. He believes that Ibarra is likely to be brought into the U.S. national team to play right wing and that he can compete at a high level. Volk also hopes that the potential call-up could translate into an MLS deal for Ibarra—or perhaps something even better. “There is talent everywhere," Volk said. "It’s really just (about) finding a good blend of players. I think you have to have diversity within your team and guys that bring different things to the table. If everybody is cookie cutter and the same, it lacks creativity and flair. "I think Miguel brings flair to the game. What he brings with his speed, his tenacity, and his work engine, it is not something that I’ve not seen in many other players. Every time you go up a notch, that’s a new speed of play. If anything, there might be an adjustment there. As far as technical ability, I think he’ll do fine. “ Ibarra’s journey to Minnesota has been a difficult one. After finishing his college career at UC Irvine, he was selected by Portland in the second round of the 2012 MLS Supplemental draft. He participated in camp and was one of the last cuts on the roster. Despite not making the team, Ibarra is not bitter and says that his time in Portland was “a great experience.” Following the preseason, one of Portland’s assistant coaches referred him to Minnesota and Ibarra impressed on a trial there. The fact that an NASL player could be called into a full national team may seem surprising to some but the signs have been there. Earlier this month in the U.S. national team’s first game following the World Cup, Klinsmann called up Stanford’s Jordan Morris, who became the first NCAA player named to the squad since 1999. For that game in Prague, Klinsmann revealed that he had scouted NASL players and was willing to call-up players wherever he found talent. "It shows also that there are different ways to get to the next level,” Klinsmann said the day before the Czech Republic friendly. “Everybody in his own way. If it's through Europe, if it's through college, if it's through MLS. I watched a couple of players at NASL—very talented but I thought for these kids it comes a bit too early. "This is our job: the national team environment. Our job is to look out there no matter where we find them, dual citizenship or not, or whatever; to identify them, to evaluate them, and to see when is the right time. Or maybe we build that right time, purposely." That "right time" appears to be now for Ibarra who is expected to represent not just himself but an entire league next week when the U.S. national team assembles for its first friendly against Ecuador on October 10th. Despite prodding, Ibarra remains coy about his future. He insists that he is taking things day by day with Minnesota where his priority remains the league championship—a goal he believes the team can achieve. Ibarra is proud to represent NASL should the call-up become official this weekend. “There are great players in the North American Soccer League,” Ibarra said. “I think any NASL team can compete with the MLS. It’s just a matter of they didn’t get the chance or something went wrong. It’s a really competitive league that people think isn’t. But if they were to get on the field, they would see that every (NASL) player can play in MLS. I like the NASL. It helped me grow and mature as a player. I am going just continue and see where it takes me from here.” “Players that don’t get the chance in MLS come to NASL and you can just see the same thing—the hunger, they want to win, they want to get better,” Ibarra added. “It’s a great league.” For other NASL players, Ibarra’s call-up is also significant because it could draw attention to the league and help get them noticed. Ramirez, who himself dreams of a U.S. call-up, now believes that his dream is not as far away as he previously thought. Ramirez beleives many NASL athletes play the game with a chip on their shoulders and are motivated to prove people wrong. If he continues to lead the league in scoring and lift Minnesota to a title, he believes he can compete for a spot on Klinsmann’s squad. “More players slip through the cracks because maybe they were too young, or just didn’t fit into the right system, or didn’t go to the right colleges,” Ramirez said. “I went to an NAIA school my last two years of college so I didn’t really have any exposure (to) MLS. So I had to pay my own way for a USL tryout to just keep chasing the dream.” “It’s a huge barrier that is broke if all the reports about Miguel are true,” Ramirez said. “It’s a been a point that Jurgen has made throughout his entire campaign— that he is not going to do what the common person will do, he is going to do things his way. He’s proven to be correct so far. I hope the reports are true and I couldn’t be happier for Miguel. "It opens the door for everybody else to say, ‘It doesn’t really matter where I am playing. There are eyes now watching everywhere and an opportunity can come at any moment.’ It’s every player’s dream to put on the colors of his country. That’s always something that you’re striving for. And if the time comes, it’s dream completed. "So I know Miguel is living the dream right now.” And if Ibarra gets the call this weekend, as multiple reports have suggested he will? “It would be great,” Ibarra said. “I will make sure I go in, work hard, and try to show Klinsmann what I have been showing [Minnesota coach Manny Lagos] here. We will see where things take me from there. "Right now I am kind of on a hot streak with everything so I think it is perfect timing. I am really confident that if I were to go, I will play my game like it was any other game.” What do you think of this development? Excited by the prospect of seeing some different U.S. talent? Tell us below. Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
September 30, 2014
September 30, 2014